‘Arrogant’ Atheists

Disclaimer: I may not necessarily wholeheartedly stand by everything written below, but it’s not like I’m not allowed to poke fun once in a while…

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folly1

It doesn’t take long on the internet, or in real life, to come across this old chestnut:

‘Atheists are so full of themselves, thinking they’re right all of the time… So much smug certainty, so much confident piss-taking, so much inconsiderate hate-speech I can’t help but pray for them! God save me.’

Ok, that may be a tad hyperbolic, but the point stands. Why are Atheists always so arrogant?

There are a few reasons for this *observation*, so let’s look at each…

‘You think you know everything!’

I don’t know about you, but to me, the person proclaiming absolute physical truths for which they have absolutely zero physical evidence is the one who really thinks they know more than they do. And, no, I don’t ‘think I know everything’. In fact the more I know, the less I know I know. It’s great. It drives my curiosity, for I am always in a state of mind adamant that the best solution to the paradox is to seek out more truth.

Oh, and ‘the more I know…’ isn’t mine. It’s Albert Einstein’s. Or Socrates’. Or William Blake’s (whoever he is). I don’t really know – but the point stands.

Plus, since when was “you’re more knowledgeable than me!” ever a sound argument? (Because that’s what they’re really saying.) I can see why confident opposition to some dearly cherished pseudo-certainties is intimidating, but storming off reaffirming to the confident opposition that they are in fact confident will get you nowhere.

And why are they confident? Because they have evidence to back up what they think. In fact, it’s highly likely that certain thoughts are only entertained because of evidence – evidence that may well seem counter-intuitive (*cough* quantum mechanics *cough*).

It’s worth noting that no matter how smugly presented, facts will always be facts too. So where is the arrogance line drawn?

Are facts ‘full of themselves’?

I admit, there’s a difference between saying

“You, like I, share an ancestor with that potato – get over it.”

and

“Life on Earth evolved through a relatively easily-understood process of gene-swapping and natural selection. Science is 99.999…% sure, and this fact underpins all of modern biology.”

But, I guarantee you, people will take offence at both. Whether a science teacher wishes nothing more than to humbly present their students with what they find most enthralling about existing, or an internet troll shouts at a group of theists in capital letters – offence will be had each way. Granted, it’s a lot harder to take offence to someone trying to teach you about the world with a smile than it is to those who actively make fun of you without consideration for fragile personal truths, but a line needs to be drawn between stating (and explaining) a fact and actively insulting a person.

Facts can be presented meanly and truths can hurt, but that does not make the facts themselves mean or the truths themselves sadistic. Offence can be taken even when the person presenting the facts does so with a tone of voice that says ‘as far as I know, I’m being reasonable’.

And, you know what?

It’s almost impossible to think oneself right without sounding arrogant

I can confidently say (how big-headed of me) that you’re unlikely to come across many Atheists who know, for absolute certain, that there is no ‘God’. In fact many Atheists would, if you asked them, probably admit to being Agnostics at heart – but this is a point for another post. What’s important to stress is that, with Atheism, it tends to be the gods proposed by various religions over the millennia that we lack belief in (the same way that the overwhelmingly vast majority of theists are ‘atheistic’ towards the gods of other religions), and that their specific existence is a factual claim easily dealt with by a basic level of science knowledge and (dare I say it) common sense – albeit ‘common sense’ without a ‘faith is separate from other ways of thinking’ bias present.

We think we’re being reasonable, intellectually honest, and clever – traits which we see as lacking in the opposition.

We’re reasonable because we value evidence; intellectually honest because we don’t need to employ intricate systems of ‘double-thinking’ to equate our take on reality with the evidence of reality itself; and clever because we are (arrogant).

I think I’m likely right on some things, but I know I’m wrong on a lot more. So why is it that the things which I can prove beyond reasonable doubt get dubbed ‘arrogant’ while the ultimate ‘it is because we say it is’ certainties of religion are given a free pass? Which one, when examined for what it is, is really the more arrogant?

I’ll give you the answer.

Theism is unbelievably arrogant

As hinted at before, I don’t think that there’s anything much more blatantly cocksure than ‘faith’. It doesn’t ‘need’ proving – it’s apparently beyond that. It’s true because it says it is, and that’s that.

As the beautifully eloquent Christopher Hitchens put it:

“I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator – that’s beyond my conceit.

Why seek to be labelled arrogant, though? There is a reason people like Hitchens feel the need to compose themselves strongly. Of those who leave faith behind, some, I suspect, do so with a vengeance.

Ex-believers sometimes feel cheated

Referring back to the picture at the top of this post, Dan Dennet has said that:

“There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.”

And when the childhood backgrounds of some of the most vocal ‘militant’ Atheists are religious themselves (the ‘folly’ Dennet was referring to, unless you missed it), it’s no wonder they take offence to what they see as having been unknowingly lied to by significant adults who were themselves products of ignorance and self-delusion.

Seth Andrews, of the ‘Thinking Atheist‘ online community and Podcast, put it this way in his FAQ:

Why do you call yourself The Thinking Atheist? Isn’t that a bit arrogant?

It’s certainly not meant to sound that way. I chose the moniker because, after three decades inside Christianity, it was only when I rejected the indoctrination of my youth and began thinking for myself that I saw superstitious nonsense for what it really is. Thinking was my ticket to freedom. And it is my hope that we all are thinking atheists. (Also, the name “David Hasselhoff” was already taken.)”

There is a point he’s making in both identifying as Atheist in general and as choosing the name ‘The Thinking Atheist’ for his internet presence – I have good reason to assume that he sincerely feels that it was thinking itself that drew him away from religion (i.e. the quote above). Every ex-believer has a different reason for leaving behind their faith, mind you, but it’s likely that at some point they all realise that their position is one of the only scientifically supported stances out there – the other obvious one being Agnosticism*.

So, in conclusion, Atheists can be arrogant – but it seems to me that they have far more reason to be than anyone else.

Carnun :P
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*I would personally welcome a bit of ‘militant’ ‘New Agnosticism’… “I don’t know, and you don’t either!”, no?

16 thoughts on “‘Arrogant’ Atheists

  1. In all of life, the only time that a god NEEDS to be in the conversation is when a believer wants to bring up the subject. All the rest of life can easily be lived without ever thinking of gods. Try that without science or math…. That’s why I’m confident!

  2. It’s the Oracles as we are told by Plato that pronounced Socrates the wisest of men when he said he knows he knows not. And many people do not see the strength of this statement.

    • Knowing what you don’t know is quite rare, I’ll settle for someone knowing that there is stuff they don’t know, even though they can’t list it.

      There is of course a strong inclination on the part of 95% of all people against ever admitting a mistake or to a lack of knowledge. (How many times has a salesperson made up an answer to your question rather than saying “I don’t know but Joe might…”)

      • Indeed. Wouldn’t being able to list what you don’t know somewhat defeat the point? :P

        I love admitting I’m wrong, when I am. It screws with whoever I’m arguing against… Plus, I find that those who are aware of their own ignorance tend to be the least ignorant, and that’s what’s beautiful about this.

      • “Indeed. Wouldn’t being able to list what you don’t know somewhat defeat the point?”

        Well I suppose I could have come across as thinking of cases like “I do NOT know that pi = 3.1415926…” (which is obviously absurd), but actually I was thinking of stuff more like “we do not know precisely how the first life formed”. There you are indeed listing something you don’t know. You know the question, but you don’t have the answer.

        But there are so many cases where we don’t know something, and we don’t even know the question. Obviously I can’t given an example of THAT except in the past tense. Relativity was utterly unimagined in 1600, there wasn’t even (yet) an unanswered question whose answer would later turn out to be relativity. By 1900 we had the anomalous Michelson-Morley experiment that needed ‘splaining, so we knew the question. Ironically, at the time we thought we had a good grasp of physics, but there were just a few odd things out there we were working on like the “ultraviolet castastrophe”… and of course the answers overthrew everything we thought we knew.

        I sometimes wonder if we are in that situation today with “dark matter” and “dark energy” and “inflation”, all striking me as possibly being ad-hoc inventions to cover data that doesn’t meet expectations. Or maybe it’s all good. I am not *really* qualified to judge.

      • I know what you meant, I was just being annoying :P

        I know exactly what you’re describing too: ‘unknown unknowns’. It’s a great thought, and one which makes science all the more necessary.

        We could well be. There’s often jokey talk of physics ‘needing it’s Darwin’ to come up with a solid unifying theory… But, as far as I am *qualified* to judge, “dark matter”, “dark energy” and “inflation” are hardly simple gap-filling answers – they’re highly empirically supported possibilities.

        The point is of course that there certainly are some loose ends: but we’re damn well working on them! (Which is, I suspect, what you meant :P )

  3. You might be referring to Socrates’ statement that ‘all he knows is that he knows nothing.’ Theists would do well to start from this position. It is rather difficult to gain true knowledge when you assume, before the fact, that you know the answer. It strikes me that this is exactly what they do. They start from the assumption that god exists and move out from there. It’s ridiculous and leads to their circular reasoning in the discovery of nothing.

    • I think I am, yes – and it would certainly help them.

      I love that one of the theistic anti-science criticisms always involves the fact that science never produces absolutes, as if that’s ever a good thing. Presumed certainties lead to complacency and complacency leads to wilful ignorance, in my view.

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